Night driving has proven to be a murky challenge for young drivers – and not just for the obvious reason that it’s dark when the sun goes down.
The most dangerous nights for young drivers are Fridays and Saturdays, although young drivers have more fatal crashes than other drivers on every night of the week.
So what’s the problem out there? And how can we make night driving safer?
Obviously, driving at night means that you can't see as much.
So what? Well, it means that some of your usual visual clues are more difficult to spot.
It’s a lot more difficult at night to predict problems before they arise – such as that dog that's wandering close to the road or that staggering pedestrian who seems out of it.
Often such hazards will be to the side of your driving lights – you might not see the problem until you’re right on top of it.
For this reason, it's always a good idea to ease off on the speed at night, especially in the rain or fog.
Before setting off into the dark, you need to check a few basic things.
Make sure your lights are working – front and rear, brake lights and high beam.
If you're planning to drive an unfamiliar car, take a few moments before driving off to check how to turn on the lights and switch from ordinary driving lights to high beam and back.
Plan your route. If you’re inexperienced at night driving, the last thing you want to do is worry about getting lost.
When you’re on the road, make sure your lights are on if it’s getting dark (a good rule of thumb is to check if the street lights are on. If you’re unsure, it’s wise just to turn your lights on – they will only improve your visibility).
You must keep your headlights on low beam if a vehicle ahead of you is within 200 metres – watch out for traffic approaching you as well as vehicles ahead of you in your lane.
If someone dazzles you with their high beam, slow down, move towards the left of your lane and lower your eyes to the road. Stop if you can’t see where you’re going.
On country roads drive at a comfortable speed for you. Reflective posts are there to help you – red reflectors are on the left and white are on the right.
Asking the right questions
You have some crucial decisions to make before driving at night.
First, ask yourself if you’ve drunk any alcohol? If so, you cannot drive.
Secondly, are you tired or are you going to be driving at a time when you’re normally asleep? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then you could be entering the danger zone. Being tired is a big factor in fatal night-time crashes.
Finally, think about your state of mind and that of your passengers. It's no surprise that P platers die at night on Friday and Saturday nights – if you’re driving to impress your mates in the car with you, then you’re heading for trouble.
It’s OK to be in a fine mood. Just focus on your driving when you’re behind the wheel.
The vision thing
Yes, it’s dark at night so it is more difficult to see. But there’s more going on as well.
The glare of lights on the road can be surprisingly disorienting, particularly if the road is wet.
Science has also given us some clues about why night driving might be difficult.
A German study has shown that our eyes may trick us into driving faster.
The eye has night vision cells, which take over from the ordinary colour-sensitive receptors that operate in the daylight. The science journal Nature reported that the study showed that objects detected by the night vision cells appeared to move in slow motion.
This means that if we regulate our speed based on what our eyes are telling us – rather than what the speedo is showing - then we could get into trouble.